Democrats needed Tricia Cotham in 2007 but then turned on her

Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, asks a question in committee. (Image from

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North Carolina Democrats desperately needed a fresh-faced 29-year-old Tricia Cotham to succeed when she was appointed to Mecklenburg Counties House District 100 in 2007. The North Carolina Democratic Party was mired in corruption and scandal. The North Carolina Democrat party WAS the face of corruption and scandal.

The North Carolina Democrats were the jailbird caucus. Cotham was selected to replace the disgraced Jim Black, the election-denying Democrat speaker of the House that engineered a bloodless coup d’etat in bribing a legislator to vote for him as speaker in 2003, after voters delivered a GOP state House majority in November in 2002. Black would be convicted on federal and state corruption charges and would serve significant time in prison. 

Cotham was appointed to her role by Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, another corrupt N.C. Democrat that later became a convicted felon based on crimes he committed while occupying the Governor’s Mansion.  

N.C. Democrats had become synonymous with corruption during the decade with Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, the daughter and granddaughter of former governors, convicted on corruption charges. She spent time in federal prison with Martha Stewart. Congressman Frank Ballance was convicted of money laundering, mail fraud, and conspiracy after he stole millions in state money. All the misdeeds Balance was convicted of came from his time at the N.C. General Assembly, when Democrats allowed certain legislative members to use the public purse as their own piggy banks.

Democratic State Representative Thomas Wright was convicted of embezzlement and became the first state House member to be expelled in 128 years. The Democrat-created state lottery was mired in scandal and corruption before the first ticket was ever sold.

Cotham came into the General Assembly shortly after I became the N.C. Director of Americans for Prosperity. When I met her shortly after she was seated, we spoke about some common interests, despite having very different political views. I was struck by what a good listener she was. Engaging, intelligent, warm. I walked away from the meeting not knowing if we would find much common ground in the future, however, I thought North Carolina and the Democratic Party would be better off for her service. 

Cotham brought honor and integrity to the state House. She mostly was a loyal Democrat in the state legislature. However, she would always listen to the perspective we free-market loyalists would present. This was true from the day she arrived until the end of 2016, when she decided to step away from elected office.  

Cotham was also a key ally when N.C. needed it most. As executive director of the NCGOP at the time, I was working (along with many others) to secure the 2020 GOP National Presidential Nominating Convention to Charlotte. Charlotte’s Democratic leadership, led by Mayor Vi Lyles, put politics aside for the good of the Queen City and the state of North Carolina to present a strong bid to host the convention. 

Many rank and file Democrats opposed the city’s efforts to land a convention that would renominate Donald Trump as president. Tricia was a key supporter of the bid both in public and in private. She was helpful in keeping the focus on the economic benefits of the convention and reminding Democrats that Republicans had worked to support Charlotte’s efforts in hosting Obama’s 2012 renominating convention. Although Covid spoiled much of the planned 2020 Convention, landing the bid was key for North Carolina, and Cotham did her part. I know this because we spoke about it often, and she was key to our success.  

I also knew in general she was worried about the hard-left direction of her party. Cotham was already an old-school N.C. Democrat in the mold of Jim Hunt, Marc Basnight, and other business progressives that held center-left positions on social issues, were public-education advocates, were friends and allies of business and industry, and supported efforts to keep criminals behind bars and streets safe.

I know that her positions on public education evolved over the years, eventually coming to believe that taxpayers could fully fund and support traditional public schools while at the same time also supporting school choice options for some children. Unfortunately, being a supporter of school choice made her an outcast in the Democratic Party, a vast change from roughly 25 years ago, when in 1996, the first charter school bill passed a GOP-controlled state House of Representatives and a Democrat-controlled State Senate and was welcomed by Democratic Governor Jim Hunt. 

John Hood wrote in 2016 that school choice was now “mainstream” with a then-recent expansion of school options being supported by some N.C. legislative Democrats. However, those views appear no longer welcome in the Democrat’s shrinking state House caucus.   

Two of North Carolina’s most respected political scientists — Western Carolina University Professor Chris Cooper and Dr. Michael Bitzer, Professor of Politics and History at Catawba College — authorized a detailed analysis of Ms. Cotham’s time in the General Assembly. It shows a roughly constant political ideology from the time she began in the General Assembly until today — a business-progressive Democrat placed squarely in the mainstream of the Democratic state House majority when she entered in 2007. While she shifted slightly to the right, her party went sharply to the left, as they lost more and more influence over the last decade. It might seem like a tired troupe, but Cotham really did not leave the party. The party left her, wanted her out, and then got mad when she left. 

My Carolina Journal colleagues have examined what they think the critical party change means to N.C. Democrats. My friend Mitch Kokai offered his thoughts here.  

What we have learned since 

A few weeks have now passed since Cotham announced she would be changing political parties, providing N.C. House Republicans their 72nd member of the 120-person chamber. If all 72 GOP N.C. House members are present and voting together, they have the exact number of members required to override Gov. Cooper’s vetoes and pass proposed constitutional amendments. Much of the Democratic left in North Carolina went absolutely bonkers. Cotham was accused of everything from bribery to prostitution.   

Cotham made the announcement on April 5 at N.C. Republican Party headquarters, surrounded by Republican legislative leaders of both chambers. 

As reported by CJ’s  Alex  Baltzegar, Cotham has voted in Democratic primaries since at least 2005. She was married to the chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. Her mom is a Mecklenburg Democratic county commissioner and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Her dad was the chairman of the Mecklenburg Democrats. 

“As long as I have been a Democrat, the Democrats have tried to be a big tent, but where the [modern-day Democratic Party is now] has become unrecognizable to me and to so many others in this state and country,” Cotham said. 

Cotham said the Democratic Party “wants to villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgment, who has solutions, who wants to get to work to better our state.” 

“If you don’t do exactly what Democrats want you to do, they will try to bully you. They will try to cast you aside. I saw that when I first ran for office and was told, ‘Why didn’t you ask for permission?’ I didn’t think I needed to do that, and quite frankly, I was offended,” Cotham said, saying as a female, this approach especially disturbed her. 

Democrats selective sexist outrage 

Democrats en mass demanded Cotham resign. Democrat Party sexism reached a disgusting level when allies painted her as Satan. 

 After attacking her kids, telling her how to vote, and attempting to tell her how to dress and what hairstyle to have, they actually made her to be Satan. 

A North Carolina group dedicated to aborting as many innocent children as possible demanded to know what Cotham received “in return for lying to and betraying the people.” 

Conservative activist Gordon Hunt tweeted in response “just thank the lovely democrats for the immediate and intense validation of everything Rep Cotham stated at the podium about their vitriol and hypocrisy; they removed all doubt for all to see.” 

The radical leftist group Carolina Forward issued public statements saying: 

“…evidence now strongly suggests that Cotham’s fraud was part of a deliberate plan by the Republican Party of North Carolina to steal a State House seat through fraud. No longer electable in Mecklenburg county by winning voter support on their own merits, Republicans resorted to backing a Trojan horse candidate in Tricia Cotham. What the precise terms were of the backroom deal Cotham struck with Republican leaders, both before and after the election, we can only speculate.” 

This absurd notion fired up so many N.C. Twitter Democrats that liberal Democratic campaign consultant Thomas Mills had to shoot it down: 

“There’s a conspiracy theory floating around Democratic circles that Tricia Cotham’s party switch was planned before she got into the race in 2022. Proponents of the theory cite contributions to her campaign by business oriented PACs. They believe she was a ‘Trojan horse,’ elected with GOP support with the intention of switching parties all along. I think it’s bullsh#t and makes the left look as unhinged as the right.” 

North Carolina Democrat Party Chair Anderson Clayton and Congressman Jeff Jackson were forced to change a planned rally and canvas operation originally planned for Cotham’s neighborhood. Political pressure from Republicans and regular citizens appeared to shame the top level away from actually protesting at Ms. Cotham’s house, or very close to it.  

It is worth noting how different Cotham was treated then other recent N.C. House Democrats that left the party and joined or organized with Republicans.  

House Democratic Leader Robert Reives criticized Cotham in a statement:  

“Rep. Tricia Cotham campaigned as a Democrat and supporter of abortion rights, health care, public education, gun safety, and civil rights. The voters of House District 112 elected her to serve as that person and overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates up and down the ballot,” Reives’ statement read. “Now, just a few months later, Rep. Cotham is changing parties. That is not the person that was presented to the voters of House District 112. That is not the person those constituents campaigned for in a hard primary, and who they championed in a general election in a 60% Democratic district. Those constituents deserved to know what values were most important to their elected representative.” 

Reives further called on Cotham to resign, something state party Chair Anderson Clayton also demanded. 

In October of 2017, Bladen County Democrat state House member William Brisson switched parties, and North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Wayne Goodwin released a  statement saying, “Representative Brisson is an honest public servant.” Contrast that with Cotham being accused by party leaders of “deceit of the highest order and betrayal.” 

When Democrat House member Paul Tine switched affiliation/caucuses in 2015, Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, one of the House Democrat’s conference chairmen, responsible for fundraising and other political activities, said, “Paul is in the best place to talk about what he needs to do to represent his district. He’s been a good representative and deserves the benefit of the doubt.” 

State House Democrats made it clear Cotham was not welcome in their tribe. Republicans did not draft her like a high-level athlete, they claimed her off the Democrat waiver wire after the Democrats cut her.  

Then they went bonkers in over-the-top and sexist reactions. 

However, something else has become apparent. Just over a decade after losing power in the General Assembly, N.C. Democrats appear to have lost the ability or even desire to actually contribute to governance from a minority position… 

..more on that in part 2 

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